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History & Archeology

scarab from over 3000 years ago Discovered in Israel


The scarab, showing a seated figure on the right and a standing figure with a raised arm on the left (Photo: Gilad Stern, Israel Antiquities Authority. )

A group of Israeli students on a simple field trip made an amazing archeological discovery: They uncovered an ancient 3000-year-old scarab in Azor, located about 7 kilometers southeast of Tel Aviv. Experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority say that the scene depicted on the scarab probably represents the bestowing of legitimacy on a local ruler.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a scarab, Latin scarabaeus, was in ancient Egyptian religion an important symbol in the form of the dung beetle (Scarabaeus sacer), which lays its eggs in dung balls fashioned through rolling. This beetle was associated with the divine manifestation of the early morning sun, Khepri, whose name was written with the scarab hieroglyph and who was believed to roll the disk of the morning sun over the eastern horizon at daybreak.

It is not surprising that an Egyptian amulet would be found in Israel. For centuries, from the time of Abraham until the rise King David, Egyptian armies crossed through Israel numerous times as Egypt fought with the rival Hittite Empire based to the north in what is modern day Turkey. And the Bible describes a time when the Egyptians invaded the country during the First Temple period as part of a war with Assyria.

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The tour of the eighth-grade pupils from the Rabin Middle School, took place in the context of a Tour-Guide Course organized by the Israel Antiquity Authority for the third year running. The course enables the pupils to teach the local Azor residents about their local archaeological heritage.

“We were wandering around, when I saw something that looked like a small toy on the ground,” said Gilad Stern of the Israel Antiquity Authority Educational Center, who was leading the tour. “An inner voice said to me: ‘Pick it up and turn it over.’ I was astonished: it was a scarab with a clearly incised scene, the dream of every amateur archaeologist. The pupils were really excited!”

The scarab was designed in the shape of the common dung beetle. The ancient Egyptians saw in the act of the little beetle, which rolls a ball of dung twice its size where it stows its future offspring as the embodiment of creation and regeneration – similar to the act of the Creator God.

According to Dr. Amir Golani, Israel Antiquities Authority specialist of the Bronze Age period, “The scarab was used as a seal and was a symbol of power and status. It may have been placed on a necklace or a ring. It is made of faience, a silicate material coated with a bluish-green glaze. It may have dropped from the hands of an important and figure of authority who passed through the area, or it may have been deliberately buried in the ground along with other objects, and after thousands of years it came to the surface. It’s difficult to determine the exact original context.”

In the lower, flat part of the scarab seal, a figure is depicted sitting on a chair, and in front of it is a standing figure, whose arm is raised above that of the seated person. The standing figure has an elongated head, which appears to represent the crown of an Egyptian pharaoh, and it is possible that we can see here a snapshot of a scene wherein the Egyptian Pharaoh is conferring authority to a local Canaanite subject. “This scene basically reflects the geopolitical reality that prevailed in the land of Canaan during the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1500-1000 BCE), when the local Canaanite rulers lived (and sometimes rebelled) under Egyptian political and cultural hegemony,” says Dr. Golani. “Therefore, it is very possible that the seal is indeed from the Late Bronze Age, when the local Canaanites were ruled by the Egyptian Empire.

Scarab seals are indeed distinctly Egyptian, but their wide distribution also reached far outside the borders of Egypt. Hundreds of scarabs were discovered in the Land of Israel, mainly in graves, but also in settlement layers. Some of them were imported from Egypt, many more were imitated in Israel by local artisans under Egyptian influence. The level of workmanship of the particular scarab found now is not typical for Egypt and may represent a product of local craftsmen.

The close cooperation between the Israel Antiquity Authority and the Azor Municipality and its educational department and schools, led to the recent opening of an impressive local museum, exhibiting the archaeological story of Azor.
According to Eli Escusido, Director of the Israel Antiquity Authority, “The find of the scarab in the framework of a field tour with pupils participating in the Tour-Guide course, is symbolic, in that the pupils were gaining archaeological knowledge, and at the same time contributing to our archaeological heritage. This cooperation is truly moving, as we are working towards connecting communities with their cultural heritage.”



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